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Atheism: A Philosophical Justification Hardcover – March, 1990

3.9 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Thousands of philosophers—from the ancient Greeks to modern thinkers—have defended atheism, but none more comprehensively than Martin. His lengthy arguments, detailed and incisive, are sharpened by modern developments in logic and inductive reasoning and by special attention to contemporary thinkers whose subtle writings are unknown to the general public.... Atheists should read it to bolster their creed, and theists should read it to test their faith against the deadly force of Martin's attack."
Martin Gardner, The Humanist

"A tour-de-force for the mind.... This is a book to be read several times and savored while being slowly digested.... If one follows Martin's reasoning throughout this book, one will have gone through the most thorough and vigorous examination of the logical arguments surrounding atheism and theism that has ever been offered."
Gordon Stein, American Rationalist

"[This book] has the impact of a runaway train. It is certainly the best philosophical justification of atheism that I have ever read.... Even readers with little philosophical background will find themselves richly repaid."
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--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From the Publisher

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 254 pages
  • Publisher: Temple Univ Pr (March 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0877226423
  • ISBN-13: 978-0877226420
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,783,334 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This book is a HUGE overview of the different types of atheism. Overall, I think Martin's book is an excellent introduction to atheism. I particularly enjoyed his refutation of various theistic answers to the argument from evil. Unfortunately, I cannot report that I enthusiastically endorse every feature of this book. Here's why:
First, Martin creates unnecessary problems for himself by trying to argue BOTH that theism is meaningless AND that if theism were meaningful, it is false. I am very familiar with Martin's Internet essay, "Positive Atheism and the Meaninglessness of Theism," where he explains that his defense of both negative and positive atheism is a "fall-back" position. However, Martin's defense of the claim, "theism is factually meaningfulness," is unconvincing. (Even most nontheists believe that theism is meaningful!) Moreover, Martin's "fall-back" strategy is a poor one. By writing such a huge discussion of arguments for and against the existence of God, it sure *appears* that Martin can think of ways in which the existence of God might be confirmed or disconfirmed. In other words, despite the fact that Martin was using a "fall-back" strategy, by the very nature of the issue Martin's fall-back strategy undermines his claim that theism is factually meaningfulness.
Second, given that his book was first published 10 years ago, it is now starting to become dated. Martin's book lacks a discussion of several new evidential arguments for atheism developed and defended since 1991. John Schellenberg has defended the highly influential atheological argument from divine hiddenness. (Indeed, this argument is so powerful that even Christian philosophers are taking it seriously: witness the forthcoming publication of Howard-Snyder's and Moser's anthology on divine hiddenness.
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By A Customer on January 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
In my opinion, this is undoubtedly one of the strongest defenses of Atheism ever written. Martin gives information on both "negative" and "positive" Atheism. These two distinctions are as follows: "negative" Atheism is simply non-belief in any particular god, while "positive" Atheism is the firm belief that no gods exist. It may sound like there is no difference at all, but it mostly has to do with how strong one's Atheism is.
Martin, a professor of philosophy at Boston University, destroys numerous modern incarnations of common theist arguments, including William Lane Craig's twist on the Kalam cosmological argument. The one draw back to this book is that it might make for rough reading for those who are not familiar with the symbolization and syntax of sentential logic. Such readers may have a tough time with Martin's arguments which, at times, resemble mathematical equations.
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Format: Paperback
As a layman in terms of philosophy I found this book to be at the edge of my ability to comprehend. This is really no page-turner in the Stephen King sense. It requires long hours of careful reading and thinking on the reader's behalf.
Martin does a great job in defining the various ideas surrounding atheism and the problems with theism. All the classic theistic proofs, in various and modern form, of the existance of God gets a good pounding. Martin deals with both so called negative atheism (the mere lack of belief in gods(s) and positive atheism (the disbelief in God and then mainly the omnipotent,omniscient and omnibenevolent construction apparent in say, christianity.
I would recommend to read Atheism: the case against God by George Smith if you are not into philosophy a lot instead of this book. This one goes so much further and is therefor at a much higher level
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Format: Paperback
Only nonphilosophers could fail to be impressed by the scope, power, and depth of the arguments for atheism in Martin's book, as the reviews show. It is an impressive philosophical achievement. The work is written for those with at least some familiarity with philosophical discussions of traditional arguments for and against theism, and it is that audience who will most profit from this work. However, both philosophers and nonphilosophers can use this book as an invaluable reference work. The only theistic arguments of note that are not examined in the book are the very few that have appeared after the publication of this book. Aside from that, all classes of theistic and atheistic arguments taken even somewhat seriously by professional philosophers, both atheistic and theistic philosophers, are carefully examined. The arguments for theism don't hold up, and the atheistic arguments do. Arguments by theists from Plantinga to Swinburne, from Craig to Kung, are methodically and thoroughly dismantled, and their flaws made manifest. This book clearly and forcefully delivers what its title states: a philosophical justification for atheism. Highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Michael Martin's Atheism is one of the most comprehensive and exhaustive cases for atheism out there. The first half of the book is focused on justifying a lack of belief in God (negative atheism) and the second half goes further, justifying a positive belief in the non-existence of God. With responses and elaborations of multiple versions of nearly every main argument for and against the existence of God, this book provides a very deep resource for interested readers.

There are certainly some caveats though. First of all, some of the information is a bit dated. Martin's comments on the sociology of religion could certainly benefit from the two decades of research since the writing of the book. Moreover, since many readers might stumble upon this book after reading authors like Dawkins and Hitchens, those expecting anything near the flair and readability of the "new atheist" authors may be disappointed by Martin's denser, less colorful writing style.

Here's an excerpt: "A class of propositions is said to be closed with respect to conjunctive elimination if (necessarily), whenever the conjunctive of two propositions is in a class, so are the two propositions themselves" (p. 384).

This book is most suited to people who a) already understand what the above sentence means or b) are really, really interested in investing the time and mental effort necessary to figure out what exactly Martin is saying. For those willing to spend quite a bit of time deciphering Martin's points, this book is a valuable, if somewhat dated, resource.
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